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Friday's opening of the firearm deer season in Michigan will see fewer hunters in the fields and woods. And that's bad news for both deer and people.

Just 25 years ago, the state had 1.2 million hunters, including 700,000 who bought deer licenses. This year, the number of hunting licenses sold has fallen to less than 675,000, and only about 555,000 of them will hunt deer. Younger people have shown less interest in the sport than previous generations. And the population of rural areas has dropped. 

The impact is significant.

Of the Department of Natural Resources' $42 million wildlife conservation budget, 90 percent comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses (fishing license sales are also declining.)

That money is used to restore and maintain wildlife habitat, which benefits both non-hunters and hunters alike. The resurgence in populations of wild turkeys, wolves, bears and other animals can be credited to the state's effective habitat maintenance.

Hunting also helps control the deer herd, which has been growing in recent years. Overpopulation can lead to the spread of diseases, as well as starvation as more deer compete for limited wintertime food supplies.

The increasing number of deer, particularly in urban areas, is a threat to motorists. Last year, there were 53,000 car/deer accidents, causing 14 deaths in Michigan.

Boosting the deer harvest is essential.

The state should accelerate programs to promote hunting and fishing to younger residents and families. 

It should also consider extending the deer season, perhaps including a winter season in select regions.

It should also study the merits of increasing kill limits, and opening up more public lands near urban areas to responsible hunting.

Hunting is part of this state's heritage. Even with the declining numbers, Michigan still ranks second to Texas in the number of deer hunters who will be afield this fall.

To those who are setting out for hunting blinds and deer camps Friday, be safe. And good hunting. 

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